Associated Retired Aviation Professionals

8 Years Later, a Flight 800 Memorial for Some Friends

Gordon M. Grant for The New York Times
Eight years ago today, T.W.A. Flight 800 exploded off Long Island. On Friday, Myra Cody of Morristown, N.J., visited the memorial.

Published: July 17, 2004

MITH POINT BEACH, N.Y., July 15 - It is an off year for mourning the dead, here where the sand meets the sea.

 There is no memorial to unveil. No visit from the governor on the agenda, and the haunting line of 230 candles - one for each person who died on Trans World Airlines Flight 800 - will not glow at the ocean's edge.

Throngs may return for the 10-year anniversary of the crash, but now, eight years after the 747 bound for Paris from Kennedy Airport exploded and plunged into the Atlantic Ocean, killing everyone on board, the task of visiting the beach to remember has fallen to a dwindling cluster of families.

 They are the regular mourners who come every July 17, year after year, even as distance, schedules and the exhaustion of reflected grief have gradually stopped hundreds of others from coming.

The roughly two dozen regulars who remain come by car, train and plane, from nearby and across the United States, from France and Australia. They take time off from the mechanic's shop and the civil service job and spend a week here with their memories and, more and more, with one another.


"There's quite a few of us who have grown to be quite close," said Aurelie Becker of St. Petersburg, Fla., whose daughter died in the crash. "It's a family atmosphere. You just can't explain the way that this kind of sorrow brings you to connect with people."

Once they arrive on Long Island, the families follow a routine. They visit the curling stone memorial to the crash victims overlooking the ocean. They walk the beach. They attend prayer services and memorial services. And then they go to the Radisson Hotel in Holtsville - about 15 miles from the memorial beach site - and spend hours talking at the bar or in a communal room upstairs.

On Thursday afternoon, three of them - Jim Hurd of Severn, Md., and John and Eleanor Seaman from Albany - were resting and having a beer after an afternoon of gardening at the memorial to prepare for the service scheduled two days later.

They talked about the National Transportation Safety Board and trying to remember which airline - Egypt Air or Swissair - had a crash soon after T.W.A. Flight 800. As they talked, a gray Mitsubishi sedan pulled up to the curb, and out stepped a rumpled-looking middle-aged couple.

The Seamans and Mr. Hurd rushed over to the car.

"Look who's here!" Mrs. Seaman said, embracing the woman and laughing. "We didn't think you were coming this year."

"When did you leave?" Mr. Seaman asked the man.

The couple, Max and Margie Predeth, had left their home in Sydney, Australia, four days earlier to begin their annual trek to Long Island. Ms. Predeth said the couple saved money all year, flew standby and stayed in inexpensive motels so they could visit the spot where her niece and sister died.

"I've missed it," Ms. Predeth said, as she watched children run to the ocean. "I've missed it so much."

"This is our eighth time," Mr. Predeth said. "It's a very soothing place to be. You're amongst friends. There's so many, and you look forward to seeing all of them. There's a bond."

It was one forged, the families said, during the first days after the crash in 1996.

When the families were crammed into a Ramada Inn, they talked about whose body had been found, the rumors that a missile had struck the plane and the pain of not knowing. They talked about the ocean of burning wreckage and body parts, and the sea of reporters, investigators and well-wishers swarming outside the hotel.

One year later, they discussed grief and lingering questions about the cause of the crash, which was ultimately blamed on a fuel tank explosion. They took note of the politicians and camera crews gathering for the first anniversary.

But now the crowds and journalists are minimal. Rather than reserve dozens of rooms at the hotel, Ms. Becker said, she has set aside space for 20 people. Mr. Seaman, whose niece died on the flight, said the families would set up folding chairs at the memorial and sit and remember.

Some years, Mr. Seaman said, families who cannot make the service mail a card or letter to him in Albany and ask him to drop it at the memorial or say a prayer by the ocean. This year, even that load is light.

"People are beginning to move away and do things on their own," Ms. Becker said. "It isn't quite the same as it was."

The dinners and drinks at the hotel are different, too. Now, the regulars talk about who is getting married and remarried, who just had a grandchild, whose child is going to which college and whose son or daughter is engaged. They drink wine and talk into the night.

"We don't say, 'How are you coping?' anymore," Mr. Predeth said. " 'How are you doing?' is better."

Mr. Hurd, whose son died on the flight, called the group a "family of circumstance."

"Two hundred and thirty people were on an aircraft together," he said. "That's why we're friends. It's what put us together. It's not what keeps us together."

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  Robert E. Donaldson.  All rights reserved